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PHIRST call for expressions of interest - specification document


Closing date: 10 January 2022, by 1pm

We invite Local Authorities in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland to submit an expression of interest to propose  specific initiatives within their work programmes that will benefit from research or evaluation input. The NIHR Public Health Research Programme has appointed four academic teams, via the PHIRST scheme, and is in the process of commissioning a fifth team.  Our teams are ready to work with local authorities to co-produce research on the public health impacts of initiatives. The academic teams are fully funded to co-design and undertake robust research in partnership with local authorities.


The purpose of this call is to find those local authority initiatives which have the potential to impact on health / health inequalities, and which require research input. We anticipate high demand and will prioritise local authority initiatives:

  • that are likely to lead to important impacts (positive or negative) on population health
  • that are likely to be widely generalisable
  • where there is an identified need for the initiative
  • where the initiative is readily evaluable
  • where the source of the initiative’s funding is identified and, preferably, secured
  • where research will provide timely evidence to underpin policy or practice

Those initiatives selected for research input will be allocated to one of our PHIRST teams which are ready to work with local authorities to co-produce the research. The research (but not the initiative itself) will be fully funded by the NIHR’s Public Health Research (PHR) programme.

In this UK-wide scheme, NIHR wishes to fund research on real-world initiatives, in timescales that are relevant to local government, with the aim of informing future policy decisions. We are particularly interested in population level, non-clinical, transdisciplinary interventions that impact upon the health of the public and inequalities in health.

The initiative need not have health impact as its primary purpose but is likely to impact (positively or negatively) on health or health inequalities. Initiatives of interest include work undertaken through any function of, and by any tier of, local government and may be in partnership with other organisations (e.g. 3rd or other public sector). The primary focus of the research will be on the initiative’s impact on health.

You may find it useful to see examples of the projects currently being worked on by our four teams. Two examples of the nine projects currently being worked on are the evaluation of the Hammersmith and Fulham ‘Free universal breakfast club and secondary school meals’ initiative, and the evaluation of the “No One Left Behind” employability support service in Fife.

Through this scheme, we are keen to receive submissions from across the UK, including from all Devolved Administrations (DAs). It is acknowledged that non-clinical initiatives impacting on public health are delivered/ commissioned by differing bodies within the DAs. Please contact us ( with a brief description of the initiative if you are unsure regarding eligibility.


The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) seeks to make the UK a world leader in public health and prevention research. Co-producing research with the public, policy makers and practitioners will ensure our research answers the most important questions facing policy makers and services at local and national levels. Local authorities are vital partners in this and to date have not always been able to benefit from the research and evaluation support they may have wanted.

The NIHR’s Public Health Research (PHR) Programme funds research with a focus on local government. Such research should help inform the delivery and implementation of current or future local authority initiatives that have the potential to lead to demonstrable health benefit and reduce inequalities in health.

What do I need to do to be eligible?

The initiative needs to be based in local government in England, Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland. Any level of local government is eligible - regional, county, district, unitary, town or parish. Expressions of interest need to have the support of the local Director of Public Health (DPH) and, if outside England, the CEO of the relevant local government organisation.

The PHR Programme is interested in local government initiatives that are currently being delivered or are planned for the future. Any initiative that is expected to have an impact (positive or negative) on the health of the local population would be within scope. This could include initiatives not primarily designed as public health interventions, such as road infrastructure, urban planning, clean air or low emission zones, or a new service for the public. The initiative should be in need of research to strengthen the evidence base. Interventions can be within one local authority or delivered across multiple local authorities or UK countries. Where possible we would encourage local authorities with similar approaches to commissioning or with similarly focused initiatives to collaborate and submit a joint expression of interest. Research that can compare approaches across more than one locality will yield more transferable knowledge. Initiatives might be the result of partnerships across organisations other than local government (e.g. 3rd or other public sector) but need to have local government involvement.

Local authorities that submit an expression of interest must be willing to commit time and resource to working in partnership with the PHIRST teams to co-produce research. Dedicated time for discussions and access to the appropriate local authority teams will be essential to the success of the research and its ability to meet the needs of both groups.

What do I get?

One of the PHIRST teams will work with you to co-create and deliver robust research to aid and inform future decision making. The PHR Programme will fully fund all research costs (via the team’s contract), but will not contribute to the costs of delivering the initiative.

The process for prioritising local authority initiatives in need of research input has been designed to be as simple and timely as possible.

It is hoped that the joint working between local authority and academic teams will result in greater mutual understanding, learning of new skills, joint academic and policy publications and, most importantly, findings that will inform future decision making across local government.

Expressions of interest are welcomed that involve more than one local authority area. 

How to submit an expression of interest (EoI)

Please submit an online EoI via the MIS by 10 January 2022, by 1pm. Please ensure that your organisation is on the MIS system, well in advance of completing the application. If your organisation cannot be found, please contact ( as soon as possible and we will arrange for it to be added.

The MIS form will ask for the following information:

  • The organisation(s) leading the initiative
  • Contact details of the lead officer for the initiative (full name, email, job title, department and organisation)
  • Contact details of the lead officer for this EoI – if different from the lead for the initiative (full name, job title and department)
  • Contact details of the supporting Director of Public Health or equivalent (if not above)
  • Name of the initiative
  • Description of the initiative, including background and key aims
  • Geographical location(s) of the initiative
  • Details of the timescale of the initiative. What is the expected start date, latest start date, other key dates for delivery?
  • How is the initiative funded, the amount of funding allocated and duration of funding. Are there any existing evaluation resources allocated to the intervention?
  • The anticipated impacts on population health, on health inequalities and any wider impacts
  • Please add any relevant weblinks
  • Any further information we should be aware of.

Your EoI will be reviewed and prioritised by representatives from the PHR Programme Prioritisation Committee. A decision will be communicated to you mid-March 2022. Each PHIRST team has an existing portfolio of projects and future start dates of initiatives will need to be taken into account as part of the prioritisation process.

Once initiatives are prioritised, the PHR secretariat will put the selected local government teams in direct contact with the relevant PHIRST team lead and local government teams will be expected to engage in an initial discussion about the initiative within 3 weeks of allocation. This is to assist in reviewing the timings/funding of the initiative, should this have changed since the application was submitted. As part of the application process we will also be obtaining your agreement to advertise any non-prioritised local authority initiatives through our phinder website.

This call complements the scope and work of the NIHR School for Public Health Research Public Health Practice Evaluation Scheme (PHPES) and the NIHR PHR Review team. PHIRST is unique in covering all four UK nations, being designed around the timescales of local government and for fostering collaboration between academic and local authority teams. NIHR PHR and the School for Public Health Research will work closely together to minimise overlap and maximise complementarity of activities. The geographical spread of projects undertaken by PHIRST will be a key consideration of the PHR Programme. The PHIRST scheme is UK-wide and could present opportunities for comparisons across devolved administrations.